Your Guide to the Best Portable Internet Options

Hotspot device
T Mobile
T-Mobile
  • pro
    Hotspot device and plan
  • pro
    Good for traveling with multiple devices
  • pro
    T-Mobile 10GB hotspot plan
Phone hotspot
Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile
  • pro
    Mobile data with phone tethering
  • pro
    Good for general on-the-go use
  • pro
    Mint Mobile 20GB plan
Satellite internet
Starlink
Starlink
  • pro
    Satellite internet service
  • pro
    Good for full-time RVers
  • pro
    Starlink Roam (Starlink Mobile Regional)
Satellite communicator
Garmin
Garmin
  • pro
    Satellite phone service
  • pro
    Good for emergencies
  • pro
    Garmin inReach Mini 2

Dave Schafer
Dec 10, 2023
bullet11 min read

Whether you’re heading out on a weekend camping trip, spending more time on your boat, or traveling the country in an RV, finding reliable internet access is important but difficult. Fortunately, you have a few options.

Dedicated hotspots devices and plans, unlimited mobile data plans you can use for tethering, and—of course—satellite internet are all solid ways to help alleviate your portable internet issues and keep you connected. But be aware: portable internet, like any internet type, comes with pros and cons.

Pros and cons of portable internet

Pros
pro Can be taken anywhere—it’s portable!
pro Several unlimited plans available
pro Options to fit most budgets
Cons
con Slower than typical home internet plans
con Often very expensive, especially if you want a lot of high-speed data

Read on for our breakdown on the best portable internet plans, plus getting, using, and understanding different types of portable internet.

The best portable internet plans

Provider
Plan name
Plan type
Price
Speed
Data
Go5G PlusMobile$90.00/mo.Up to 5G speedsUnlimited/50GB hotspot data at high speeds, then unlimited at reduced speeds
Mint Mobile 20GBMobile$25.00/mo.Up to 5G speeds20GB high-speed data, then unlimited at reduced speeds
10GB hotspotHotspot$30.00/mo.Up to 5G speeds10GB high-speed data, then unlimited at reduced speeds
Starlink RoamSatellite internet$150–$200/mo.Up to 50MbpsUnlimited
inReach Mini 2Satellite phone$14.95–$64.95/mo.
$399.99 for the phone
N/AN/A

Our top five recommendations run the full portable internet gamut: cellular internet and satellite internet, broken down into hotspot devices and plans, data plans great for phone tethering, and satellite internet and satellite phone plans. At a glance, you can get a good idea of which fall into your price range and which might be best for your situation.

Want better internet at home too? Enter your zip code to find the best providers in your area.

How to get portable internet

Portable internet primarily falls into two categories: satellite internet and cellular networks. Each type has its own pros and cons.

Satellite internet

This includes satellite internet such as Starlink Mobile (also known as Starlink Roam), and also encompasses satellite phones, although these are restricted to communication only and don’t generally provide true internet access. The main advantage of satellite is availability—you can get a connection very nearly anywhere. This comes at a cost, however, and you’ll typically pay far more for satellite internet than an equivalent cellular plan.

Cellular internet

Cellular connections, like 4G LTE and 5G, make excellent portable internet options. You can either get a standard mobile plan and use your phone as a hotspot, or you can opt for a dedicated hotspot and plan—this may be better for heavy users or those that need to share their connections. The main downside of cellular is that coverage isn’t always available when you need it—if you’re relying on it for emergency communications, this can be a big issue.

Portable internet speeds

Internet type
Speed
T-Mobile Home Internet (5G)Up to 245Mbps
Viasat satellite internetUp to 150Mbps
Starlink Standard (Residential)Up to 100Mbps
Starlink MobileUp to 50Mbps

When it comes to portable internet, you can get quite respectable speeds these days. That said, don’t expect fiber-level performance.

Starlink Mobile offers speeds up to 50Mbps. That’s a bit less than you’d typically expect from Starlink Standard (Residential) or other providers like Viasat—but, of course, you can’t take these services on the road.

Cellular internet is theoretically faster, especially if you can get 5G coverage. However, these speeds are highly variable and depend on what sort of coverage your provider has at your location. T-Mobile’s Home Internet service advertises speeds up to 245Mbps, which gives you a decent idea of what to expect in high-coverage areas.

Portable internet data

The portable internet data situation is a bit better than that for speed—there are even a number of options for unlimited portable data, including both satellite and cellular plans:

Many hotspot plans these days offer a limited amount of 5G data, but when that is used up you can continue to use the hotspot at reduced speeds without needing to pay for more data. Alternatively, if you need those 5G speeds, you can often usually buy more for the month on an as-needed basis.

Hotspot device and dedicated plan vs. hotspot tethering with a phone plan

When it comes to cellular internet, there are two main options: using a dedicated hotspot device and plan, or using your phone as a hotspot with a “regular” mobile plan. Each approach has its pros and cons.

Hotspot devices

Most smartphones have hotspot functionality built-in these days, and many (though not all) cell plans include at least some hotspot data. This means you may very well have a portable internet in your pocket right now.

That said, the hotspot feature can run down your phone’s battery very quickly. If you make heavy use of the hotspot feature, you may want to grab a dedicated hotspot device. Most cell providers carry these—here’s T-Mobile’s selection, for example. They range in price from $90.00 to $264.00. Having a dedicated hotspot device can give better performance, particularly if you need to connect a large number of devices at once.

Hotspot data plans

Similarly, many phone plans include some hotspot data. However, it may be limited in speed, and a lot of plans share the same data allowance between phone and hotspot use, meaning you could eat through all your personal phone data just by streaming some Netflix on a road trip.

Hotspot data plans are designed to pair with a hotspot device, and provide a dedicated pool of data specifically for that purpose. Most cellular providers offer these—again, here’s T-Mobile’s selection of plans. Prices range from $10.00 to $30.00 per month, and you can often add more data on an as-needed basis.

Should I get a hotspot device or use my phone?

If you only use the feature occasionally, or you’re the only person connecting to the hotspot, your phone is probably fine. However, if it’s something you use a lot, or need to connect multiple devices simultaneously, you may have a better experience with a dedicated hotspot device.

T-Mobile vs. Verizon vs. AT&T network coverage

The Big Three US carriers all offer essentially nationwide 4G LTE coverage and extensive 5G coverage, as well. However, when it comes to 5G, T-Mobile is the clear winner for availability, while Verizon actually has the least coverage of the three major carriers.

While local coverage can vary a lot, the whole idea of portable internet is being able to take it wherever you need. That means T-Mobile is likely the way to go.

You can check coverage using the FCC’s interactive map. As a matter of fact, you can use this same tool to check coverage for nearly any internet type and provider.

What about MVNOs?

Mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, can be an excellent alternative to the major carriers. MVNOs like Mint Mobile and Visible are almost always much more affordable, and, since they use the same networks, performance is often just as good.

Two things to watch for with MVNOs: they tend to offer less hotspot data than the major carriers, and speeds can occasionally suffer due to data deprioritization. This happens when the provider they rent network space from slows speeds in order to provide a better experience for its own customers, typically during times of heavy congestion.

5G home internet

5G home internet is exactly what it sounds like—home internet service that uses 5G networks (the same as your phone), rather than cable, fiber, or satellite. It’s essentially a permanent hotspot at your home.

These services are technically portable—you can easily take them with you if you move, for example, and the hassle is minimal. However, you’re not really supposed to use it as a portable internet solution for things like RVs or boats. This is usually a violation of the terms of service.

Still, if you want to check them out, the two best options are T-Mobile Home Internet and Verizon 5G home internet. We usually recommend going with whichever provider you already have for cell phone service.

Portable satellite internet options

Satellite internet remains one of the best options for portable internet access. This is especially true if you need to use your internet in remote areas that may not have cell service. The best portable satellite internet service is Starlink Mobile (also known as Starlink Roam).

Starlink Roam (Starlink Mobile)

Starlink plan
Price
Data
Speeds
Equipment cost
Starlink Mobile (Roam) Regional$150.00/mo.Unlimited standard5–50 Mbps$599.00
Starlink Mobile (Roam) Global$200.00/mo.Unlimited standard5–50 Mbps$599.00
Starlink Mobile Priority 50GB$250.00/mo.50GB40–220Mbps$2,500.00
Starlink Mobile Priority 1TB$1,000/mo.1TB40–220Mbps$2,500.00
Starlink Mobile Priority 5TB$5,000/mo.5TB40–220Mbps$2,500.00

Starlink Roam Regional and Starlink Roam Global are the two portable satellite internet plans meant for most people. The former will carry you all across the US, and the latter allows you to access the internet abroad in countries where Starlink is available.

Both Starlink Roam Regional and Global offer unlimited data, but Roam data is prioritized beneath other Starlink internet plans (like Starlink Residential). And while the speeds don’t look impressive, many users find they sometimes get above the promised range. In our own testing of Starlin Roam, we experienced speeds as high as 120Mbps and as low as 21Mbps.

Starlink Mobile Priority, meanwhile, are significantly more expensive both in monthly price and in up-front equipment costs. That’s because these plans are mostly intended for businesses. They offer the highest data priority and in-motion portable internet so people like emergency responders can stay in communication in urgent, on-the-go situations.

Overall, Starlink says its users typically experience 25–60ms latency on land, and we can corroborate that. After averaging data from our seven million speed tests from September 2022 to September 2023, we’ve found Starlink’s average national latency to be around 35ms. But keep in mind that users in more remote locations will experience higher latency—around 100+ ms in places like oceans, on islands, and in Antarctica, Alaska, Northern Canada, and more.

Starlink Roam plans are mostly for people who are out and about a lot and have time to set up camp and satellite equipment whenever they stop. It can successfully let you stream and work while you travel, but it’s not the most nimble portable internet setup. If you want something a bit lighter (and cheaper), check out satellite phones.

Satellite phones/communicators

If you primarily need portable internet for emergency communications, not things like streaming, you might consider a satellite communicator. We recommend the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and accompanying service plan. It allows you to send messages (up to an unlimited amount, depending on your plan) from anywhere in the world, making it an excellent choice for staying safe in remote places.

Some iPhone models also offer satellite SOS features. This is okay for getting emergency help, but it’s not really a substitute for a true satellite phone.

Internet for RVs

RVs present an interesting situation for internet. You may want access in remote locations, but you also need access while moving, which requires specific equipment. Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots work well while moving, but coverage in remote areas can be spotty. On the other hand, satellite is ideal for use in remote locations, but it requires specialized (and expensive) equipment to get a signal on the go.

For this reason, we have a few different recommendations for RV owners to consider:

Starlink for RVs

We mentioned it earlier, but Starlink Mobile (also known as Starlink Roam) is Starlink’s main portable internet plan. It offers up to 50Mbps speeds and unlimited data. It’s also got options for both in-country and global service, so if you need your connection to truly work anywhere, this is an excellent option. Plans are $150.00 per month for regional service or $200.00 per month for global service, plus $599.00 for equipment.

Mobile hotspots for RVs

If you’re mostly using the internet in areas with decent cell coverage, we recommend Mint Mobile or T-Mobile RV internet options to use your phone as a hotspot. Both get you speedy wireless internet access with unlimited data, so you can stream to your heart’s content. Best of all, both work while the RV is moving, without dishing out thousands of dollars for special antennas.

RV internet tips

If you want Starlink Roam, just remember Starlink Roam and Starlink residential aren't the same thing, so be careful when you choose the right one when you sign up. As a general guide, Starlink Roam tends to be slower than Starlink Residential, but Starlink Roam doesn't have a waitlist like residential does in some areas. Once you're signed up with either, all you'll need is the Starlink app to guide your Starlink installation. Most people say it's fairly easy, but check out our Starlink Customer Service guide if you run into any problems.

If you go the mobile hotspot route to get internet for your RV, just remember that T-Mobile Home Internet isn't the same thing as its hotspot RV internet options. T-Mobile Home Internet is meant for a fixed location, and moving it from your home address will break the terms of service, so you could get booted from it.

For other hotspots like Mint Mobile's, just make sure you have an unlimited plan with enough high-speed data for your needs. And, of course, that your provider allows you to turn your phone into a hotspot that other devices can attach to. You may also want to add a Wi-Fi extender for extra reach on your wireless network.

Internet for truckers

Truckers that spend a lot of time on the road need internet that’s fast and reliable, but it also needs to be able to work in rural areas and truck stops out in the middle of nowhere. However, satellite isn’t necessarily practical—carting a dish and providing power to a modem are inconvenient at best and impossible at worst.

For that reason, a Wi-Fi hotspot is almost certainly the best internet option for truckers. The catch is finding one that works well outside of urban areas. T-Mobile or Verizon are probably your best bet for strong coverage. You can also pair with a cell phone booster for added signal strength.

Internet for boats

Boating takes all the challenges of RVs and kicks them up a couple notches. Unless you’re sitting in port for an extended period of time, your boat is rarely stationary. If you go out far at all, you almost certainly lose your cell coverage. Lastly, smaller boats may not have a convenient spot to mount a satellite dish, further limiting your options.

As such, the best option for your boat depends a lot on how you use it. If your yacht or other large vessel has space for satellite dishes, you can opt for the exorbitantly expensive Starlink Maritime satellite internet for boats. This gets you the best boating internet experience currently available for $5,000 per month, plus another $10,000 up front for hardware.

For the rest of us, a portable hotspot is the way to go. T-Mobile’s devices are a solid choice if you spend enough time on the water to justify a separate hotspot device and plan. If you just need the hotspot occasionally, a mobile hotspot plan should be plenty—we like Mint Mobile.

Internet for camping

With internet for camping, the challenges are mainly about getting consistent access—many prime camp spots, like national parks, are in cellular dead zones with little to no service. For that reason, it’s hard to nail down a single best camping option.

Generally, we recommend a mobile hotspot simply for portability (possibly paired with a Wi-Fi extender). Portable satellite dishes and routers can be a pain to lug around. On the other hand, satellite will likely get better reception, so it’s definitely a tradeoff.

What is the best Wi-Fi hotspot for camping?

A T-Mobile hotspot and accompanying plan are likely to be the best option for campers. T-Mobile has a wider overall coverage area than Verizon and AT&T, and this may include some campgrounds and backcountry areas where you might be hiking or camping.

Methodology

At SatelliteInternet.com, we base our analyses on thorough research, including customer interviews, first-hand testing, results from our speed test tool, and proprietary internet provider data on speeds and pricing. We also dive deep to get all the details on plans, fees, and future developments. We then bring this info together in one place so you can find it easily. Finally, we use our satellite internet industry expertise to help you make the best decisions you can for your household. As always, thanks for reading!

Portable internet FAQ

Does Airbnb have Wi-Fi?

Many, if not most, Airbnb rentals will have Wi-Fi access. Ultimately, it’s up to the hosts of the Airbnb whether they want to offer it or not—often, the listing will highlight if they do.

That said, using these networks could pose a security risk—the host has the password as well, and could therefore see the activity on the network. For this reason, bringing your own hotspot could be a good idea.

Can mobile data replace home internet?

Yes, with the right plan. In fact, many mobile providers are now offering home internet packages that use 4G LTE or 5G data.

The speeds are often more than fast enough—the main consideration is data usage. If you use your home network heavily, such as for frequent video streaming, you may want to opt for an unlimited plan.

Can I get internet through my cell phone provider?

Many cell phone providers now offer home internet, including Verizon and T-Mobile. This is essentially a hotspot for your home, feeding high-speed 4G LTE or 5G data to your devices. The prices are often quite reasonable, too. For example, T-Mobile’s plans start at just $30 per month.

What happens if you use mobile data instead of Wi-Fi?

Essentially, nothing—mobile data and Wi-Fi work more or less the same. You may see a speed difference if you’re in an area without high-speed mobile data coverage. The main thing to watch for is accidentally using up a limited mobile data plan—Wi-Fi won’t count towards that limit.

Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).